REPAIR programme for UK infrastructure

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is almost ready to publish the results of its Rapid Evaluation and Planning Analysis Infrastructure for Railways (REPAIR). The programme is part of a drive to improve rail freight planning through digital technology applications. The project is being co-ordinated by the Logistics Institute at the University of Hull, and the Frazer-Nash Consultancy.

REPAIR (Rapid Evaluation and Planning Analysis Infrastructure for Railways) is part of a suite of three projects awarded funding in the second round of the “Data Sandbox+” competition launched by RSSB in September 2019. The RSSB say that REPAIR will use artificial intelligence and deep re-enforced learning techniques to develop a set of tools to improve rail freight planning, by assessing the knock-on impact or perturbations to the network, and provide mitigation strategies. It should provide a means of applying experience and expertise across the industry, taking workload off planning individuals and making more efficient use of available resources.

Award-winning software demonstration

The results of the work were recently demonstrated in an online public forum, to members of the RSSB, representing a broad spectrum of the industry. The RSSB said much good work was already underway and a called the programme a game-changing tool in planning during network delays. Giulia Lorenzini, their senior partnership and grants manager, emphasised the importance of exposing the sector to expertise from indusrty and academia at large. “This partnership speaks to our emphasis on delivering benefits to the whole industry, including freight, and providing the R&D support required for freight to enhance its contribution towards key government policy objectives such as decarbonisation, economic growth and promoting international trade.”

REPAIR is part of a suite of software developments promote by the RSSB

Lorenzini thinks that dialogue with the industry will help feedback experience gained in the field to the developers, and that will help accelerate adaption and adoption of modern technologies to better enhance efficiency in the industry. “We see this as an opportunity to both review what’s been done so far in the space of R&D and discuss where to take our collaboration next, based on most urgent priorities”, she said. “It will also be a call to encourage the wider freight community to engage with future work, in order for it to deliver best value.”

Statutory body and industry association concur

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is almost two-decades old, and was formed in the wake of a fatal accident near London’s Paddington station in 1999. Although wholly independent, most duty holders are required by the industry watchdog, the Office of Rail and Road, to be members of RSSB and to comply with the obligations of membership. As part of its remit, the RSSB currently administers a series of competitive programmes, seeking technological progress on Britain’s railways.

Neil Sime, managing director of Victa Railfreight and the newly-appointed chair of the Rail Freight Group; and Giulia Lorenzini, their senior partnership and grants manager at the RSSB

Representing the industry’s professional body, Neil Sime, the newly-appointed chair of the Rail Freight Group, said that progress was as important now as ever, despite the challenges surrounding Covid-19, and he emphasised the positive aspects of adopting modern technological solutions. “It is an exciting time for the rail freight sector, as more businesses look to move their goods off of the roads and onto the rail network”, he said. “The RFG’s role has never been more important in tackling the current issues such as the decarbonisation of the transport sector and in helping the Government meet its environmental targets.”

In addition to stepping up from the vice-chair role at the RFG, Sime is the managing director of Victa Railfreight, the Kent-based company behind the recent timber train trials in the far north of Scotland. Applying technological insights like REPAIR may make more operations like those timber trials viable, and help achieve the ambitions for growth shared by the industry at large.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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